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$12.9M Doesn't Include a Moat

By Prashant Gopal

In the market for a home with an indoor basketball court, a six-car garage, a wine cellar and a fitness center with locker room and sauna?

How about a room just for wrapping gifts?

Look no further than Saddle River, where Pinnacle Custom is eight months from completing an 18,000-square-foot mansion with all those features for $12.9 million -- making it one of the priciest homes built on speculation in the North Jersey market.

Pinnacle is taking a bit of a risk on the 25-room, stone-and-stucco castle on 4.2 acres where two small ranch houses previously stood. Builders in North Jersey rarely build speculative homes houses with price tags topping $7 million. And the real estate market in recent months has slowed down as inventories of unsold houses mount.

But Pinnacle says it made a conscious decision to appeal to a super high-end buyer.

The East Saddle River Road home, which got under way in August 2005, has eight bedrooms, nine bathrooms and three powder rooms.

"It's clearly a discretionary purchase for someone who is less concerned with their ability to sell the house they're in," said Michael Cantor, president of Pinnacle Custom. "It's such a one-of-a-kind offering, there's no competition for us."

Listing agent Charles "Chip" Gildea, co-owner of Marron-Gildea Realtors in Ho-Ho-Kus, said the house is perfect for someone who doesn't want to wait the two or more years it takes to complete a custom home.

Pinnacle "is willing to build a spec house of this quality because they feel as though there are a sufficient number of customers who are able to write a check, turn the front lock and walk in," Gildea said.

Susan Penny, a Realtor with Friedberg Properties in Alpine, said high-end customers want houses that are unique -- even when they don't have the time or inclination to undertake a custom home.

"A $13 million spec house could be seen as a risky undertaking right now," she said. "However, there's still a lot of people with a lot of money out there that can more than afford a house like that. It'll be interesting to see how quickly it sells."